Where did you grow up?
The first eight years of my life I grew up in Vietnam. My parents were both born in Vietnam, and I was raised in the south. Our family became political refugees because my dad fought for the south. Because of that, the United States decided to sponsor us to come to the United States. I remember it was a really early morning, we got in the car and left and never came back. [Laughs] We were not more than 30 or 40 miles outside of Saigon, or what people call Ho Chi Minh City these days, along the coast. We lived in a fishing village in that area. We had some relatives in San Jose, CA. That’s where we settled, and I started third grade. I stayed in San Jose until I was 18, then I moved to Berkeley for college. I was in California until I was 22, then I moved to New York.
Why New York?
[Laughs] Being an Asian person and having parents who expected a lot of me, they always wanted me to got to an Ivy League school because that was really important to them. In their eyes, that was a sign of success. When I was at Berkeley, I applied to three different optometry schools: two in California and one in New York. New York was my last choice. When I had gotten into all three schools, that’s when the dilemma really started to come because I thought that I was going to stay in California for school. I received a scholarship from Berkeley—that was my number one choice, but it meant I would have stayed there for four more years. Being the young, curious man that I was, I said it’s either staying here at Berkeley for four more years, paying less for school, being around family and having all that comfort, or just taking a really big chance here and [laughs] move all the way to the other side of the country and experience something new. It’s been over seven years now that I’ve been in New York.
How did you get into optometry?
[Laughs] At the dinner table when I was growing up, you know, Asian parents love to talk about their kids. My parents were always talking about how they wanted their kids to be doctors. I think hearing it affects you. I volunteered quite a bit when I was in high school because I was an overachiever. We would volunteer at soup kitchens at the hospital, I really like helping people, and I thought being in health care was something I wanted to do. That was my mindset going into college. I shadowed at a couple of medical doctors’ offices, the dentist’s office, and then I happened to shadow at a really great optometry practice. The doctors there really loved what they did. After I had volunteered a couple of times, they offered me a job. Right before deciding to go to optometry school, one of the optometrists in said, “If you were my son and I was giving you advice, I would say that optometry is one of the greatest careers there is.” He really sold me.